Indictments ComingTwo NYPD Officers To Face Manslaughter Charges In Sean Bell Shooting
03/16/2007 02:31 PM
Three of the five officers involved in the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Sean Bell last November will be indicted when the charges are announced by the Queens district attorney on Monday, according to attorneys for the three detectives.
The Queens D.A.'s office announced Friday afternoon that a Queens grand jury had reached a decision after nearly two months of reviewing evidence and hearing testimony.
Sources say detectives Michael Oliver and Gescard Isnora will face charges of manslaughter, while detective Marc Cooper will face charges of reckless endangerment.
The indictments will be unsealed Monday morning, at which point the three detectives will surrender to authorities and be formally charged.
The jury spent three days deliberating whether to indict the five officers who fired 50 shots at Bell and his friends Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield outside Club Kalua in Jamaica, Queens, in the early-morning hours of November 25th. Bell, who was to have been married later that day, was killed.
"We pulled everyone in a circle together back in the office," said Reverend Al Sharpton about how Bell’s family was informed about the indictments. "We told them together. They were quiet, they were reflective and we began talking about the rough road ahead."
Isnora, an undercover officer who was the first to fire at Bell's car, fired a total of 11 shots.
Police say he approached Bell's car with his shield and gun, and opened fire when Bell's car started to move and when he saw one of the men reach for what he thought was a gun.
According to police accounts, it was Isnora's shots that convinced other officers they were being fired upon.
Oliver was the only officer to reload his weapon during the shooting, firing 31 shots at Bell and his friends. He later told investigators his gun had jammed.
Cooper fired four shots.
The other two officers involved fired another four shots between them: Detective Paul Headly fired one, and Officer Michael Carey fired three.
Police say the detectives initially followed Bell and his friends out to their car because they thought someone in their party had a gun. However, no gun was found at the scene, and authorities found no ballistic evidence indicating that any gun was fired other than the weapons of the five officers.
Detectives Endowment Association president Michael Palladino said his organization was disappointed by the indictments, but that he was confident the officers would be exonerated.
"The message being sent by the indictment (will have) a chilling effect on New York police officers and law enforcement all around the nation," Palladino said in an afternoon press conference. "In an effort to defend themselves and other people in the area they find themselves to be criminally charged."
Philip Karasyk, the attorney for Detective Isnora, said that Isnora was upset but firm. "He is looking forward to his day in court," Karasyk said.
Because Bell was black, the case has developed racial repercussions that were felt throughout the city after Friday's announcement. Of the three indicted officers, Oliver is white, while detectives Isnora and Cooper are black. The grand jury included eight blacks, seven whites, and a mix of Hispanics and Asians.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg cautioned restraint in the aftermath of the announcement.
"We have a system of laws in this country, and whatever the grand jury says is justice by the designation of our laws, and I think people will act responsibly," Bloomberg said.
Sharpton, who had been seeking broad indictments of the five officers, called the news a "major step in the battle."
Still, representatives for both the officers and the victims pointed out that the indictments are just the first step in a long legal process.
"Charges are not convictions, and convictions will not bring back Sean Bell," he said on his nationally-aired radio show. "We hope that the grand jury brought us closer to the enforcement (of the law)."
“We are at the very beginning,” said Karaysk. “The burden of proof in the grand jury is probable cause. It is approximately down here [making a low hand gesture] with respect to the level of proof required. Consider it like a two-foot hurdle. To convict is a ten-foot hurdle — beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The Bell shooting is the city's third high-profile case in the last decade involving a police attack on an unarmed black man.
In February 2000,
four New York police officers were acquitted on charges
stemming from the death of West African immigrant Amadou Diallo, who was killed in a hail of 41 bullets as he stood in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building on February 4, 1999. Diallo was shot when undercover officers, searching for a suspect who fit his description, mistakenly believed he was reaching for a gun when in fact he was fumbling for his wallet.
In 2001, the city
compensated Haitian immigrant Abner Louima with an $8.75 million settlement
after Louima was beaten by police and sodomized with a broomstick while handcuffed in a bathroom in Brooklyn's 70th precinct stationhouse on August 9, 1997.
Former police officer Justin Volpe was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in the attack, and five other officers were convicted in connection with the incident.
Surprise Witness Testifies Before Grand Jury In Bell Case
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